S THE LENTEN SEASON begins, I am sure that many parishes are starting to use the Missa Jubilate Deo as the Mass Ordinaries setting. And there are also some churches that I know that sing the English chant from the Roman Missal. Both of those settings were mentioned in Bishop Doerfler’s Instruction. In the Instruction to his diocese, the Bishop of Marquette asked that Gregorian chant, both the Propers and the Ordinaries, be brought to parishes and schools. I think that Bishop Doerfler is taking is a very brave step to restore the sacredness of the Liturgy and to reintroduce people to the Catholic Tradition.
Bishop Doerfler has already addressed the most common complaint that one gets from parishioners: “I can’t sing along”. A lot of people like to participate externally and to be able to sing with the choir. (Regarding that, I think there is a deeper problem that has to do with “prayer”, but I will save that for another post.) The bishop’s Instruction requires the active participation of the faithful in singing along with the Ordinaries and the Communion Antiphon. He is also asking the diocesan music director to train other musicians in the diocese so that they can assist the faithful.So the people will “sing along” with the choir at intervals during ever Mass. However, it is my observation that many people still see Gregorian chant in negative ways because of three misconceptions they have. If we can clear up these misunderstandings, it will be much easier for people to fall in love with chant.
“Chant is slow and long” – This is a common perception. The congregation, and sometimes even the choir, tend to drag out the chant. Many people think that is the nature of Gregorian chant. My suggestion would be to set a pace that is close to the pace people would recite the phrases, don’t encourage long pauses between phrases, and to sing with good diction. If we sing well, Gregorian chant will not be perceived as tediously slow and drawn-out..
“Chant is plain and flat, they all sound the same” – I think this misconception arises from the overuse of a certain chant settings like Mass VIII and Mass XVIII. If your congregation is already comfortable with these settings, maybe it is time to try other settings. There are other beautiful chant melodies in the Kyriale. There are also a variety of psalm tones to choose for the Liturgy of the Hours or simple Propers. For the choir, you may consider working with them on the enunciation, like where the accented syllables are; or where to pause; or what needs to be lengthened. These changes should dispel the notion that all Gregorian chant sounds the same, while exposing the congregation to various beautiful settings.
“Chant is penitential” – As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, many parishes chant the Ordinaries of the Mass during Advent and Lent, the penitential seasons, and so many people connect chant to penance. Gregorian chant is not a penance! It is true that chant can express sorrow, but it can also express other emotions. For example, the Gloria and the Sanctus are joyful hymns of praise. This misunderstanding can be addressed in homilies or through catechesis in other ways. However, the best course is to sing chant outside of Advent and Lent.
TRULY THINK THAT people will accept and appreciate Gregorian chant more easily if we can dispel these three misconceptions. Please feel free to leave comments or share your suggestions on our Facebook Page.